Sunday, April 13, 2014
'We are in the walls of a city that has never known peace,' the priest says.
I walked with Jon from the Mount of Olives to Gethsemane to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday yesterday. It felt as if we just walked right into the center of things after leaving Tel Aviv. We asked for instructions to the bus station to Jerusalem from this Filipino woman who told us we would find the terminal 'pag nakita niyo na yung mga naka paradang parang FX lang doon.' Then somehow we met a group of Filipinos on the bus from and they asked us if we wanted to join them on Palm Sunday at the Church of All Nations. And we said yes, because why not.
We didn't have a place to stay, so we walked with all our belongings--about 35 kilos of things on our back, for about 5 hours. No, we had no idea that we were about to walk into Jerusalem from where we were dropped off. We walked in the Holy Land with pilgrims from all over the world. They sang songs with melodies I knew in Catholic school but in languages I couldn't always identify. We followed the palm with a Philippine flag attached to it. Sometimes we would wander off. Look Jonny, it's Mary's birthplace, did you see the man dressed as Jesus? That IDF troop is really good looking....
And this all felt very strange because growing up with nuns in a Catholic school, the places I had read about in the Bible almost seemed fictional. Somehow I imagined Gethsemane to be a lost place in history. I don't think I ever dreamed of walking down the streets where Jesus walked. I never saw myself being surrounded by all sorts of nuns, while on the side of the road, little girls in hijabs pointed excitedly at the more unique habits. And the Israel Defence Forces lined the streets we walked in, with their boots and their guns, but always with tender smiles to return to us. They would ask us where we were from. Always gently...
Here we were, in disbelief, lost in a place and surrounded by people who believed many different things, in many different forms. And I walked with Jon behind them, past them, beside them. I hoped it was in the right direction. And then I said thank You.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
I've been meaning to tell you many things, but it's often easier to say in photographs. Words are strange things, and sometimes they talk too much. But I will try.
I'm learning to take things slow. Getting really used to the dirt on my feet and the cold baths and the long trips that I could only take for two or three days before I went insane. For two weeks I slept on cold floors and some days the only food would be rice and instant noodles over 80's power ballads. I didn't feel very strong. Long bus rides. Really, really, long boat rides. The moment that I put a lifevest on because I actually feared for my life. So many stories and I tell all of them by who I've become from it.
I think I'm in a place where I haven't really processed everything yet--I do what I have to at the time, and I pressure myself to do it well. My days are packed and when I do have a little space I try to do things to make myself remember some normalcy--a cup of coffee, an episode from a TV show. Music with old friends. I feel like I have to make some space for some introspection, but I feel so far removed from familiarity to comfortably do that. And perhaps that is okay.
It's been unusual? Special? Coming back home to my Philippines after half a year of being away. Going back to see the same places has been off-putting, and listening to myself tell people my own stories has been odd. But for the first time in my life I'm owning myself. I am not so foolish as to forget how lucky I am, and I'm in the part where I am trying to do the best that I can with the doors that have been opened for me. And to make sure they stay open. To make sure my heart is.
Oh tell me a story of magic and spiralling ships
And stars in the night
Monday, January 20, 2014
I would dream about India. A few years back, I dreamed of the Taj Mahal, and I woke up with goosebumps. In real life, we never saw the Taj Mahal. Perhaps that is best, maybe it's for the next time. It's been a little over a week since we were in India, and I'm back in my new home in Phnom Penh. It's a new year, but somehow it feels like the end of something.
The ending could have been anything. But we found this place, and we found the badlands, and in the badlands we found fields of yellow flowers. This is special to me. We went down the road and at the end of it is a palace, a fortress, places you can explore and pretend in. Where maharajahs slept, where maharanis chattered. We walked in the streets and into the havelis, where the palace looks upon the whole land. I remembered a time I never knew, a time when life was set in places of fables and fantasy. Thought about how it still was. Sat on rooftops and watched children fly their kites. Looked for the trees where the kites went to die. Got on a rickshaw and rode away, into the sleepy little towns where everyone is sitting and is wanting a photograph. The doors are open and they ask you to come have chai in their homes. Where peacocks walk the streets and do their silly little dances. Men in their turbans and women in their sarees and children in their laughter. The houses are painted in many different colors and the people are, too.
Gandhi says India lives in her villages, so we went to find her there. I don't think my search is over, but I found more than what I had asked for. I always do, when I decide to take a look. But taking a look is not always as easy as I thought it would be.
It wasn't until Jon and I were driving away from the Bangkok airport that I realised how leaving India felt like an ending. That's what these places mean to me. It is with disbelief that I write this. In the last four months I was in seven countries, and with eyes closed and a lot of fears, I moved from one to the other. I left my home for 23 years. The urgent wanderlust I used to feel has been replaced with conflicting feelings of gratitude, travel frustrations, and then missing home. And in between all of that is the quiet. We found it in these unreal places.
Bigger photos and final edit on hannah.ph/rural-rajasthan
Sunday, December 29, 2013
Say hi to beautiful Mother Ganga, my monk friend tells me.
Will you see dead bodies floating, my real life friend asks.
Varanasi is one of the oldest living cities in the world. The holy city within Varanasi is called Kashi, or 'The City of Light.' Cows line the narrow stone roads. Dung and spit and dirt follow. The Ganges, flowing through it, is the river goddess Ganga. The city is bustling with hippies and terrified tourists and men offering you trinkets, and boat rides, and hash. Holy men. Pilgrims. They come to Varanasi to find salvation, to meditate, to transcend. I was told to go. 5 madmen sent me, each one of them a photographer. Mitchell calls it my initiation. To what, I haven't quite figured out yet.
I spent the end of my 2013 here, and watched bodies burn away on Christmas day. Holding hands with Jon watching bodies burn away. They say Varanasi is the city of Shiva. They say Shiva is the god of death and new beginnings. I have my own beliefs, but I find this beautiful.
So I said hi to the Ganges.
I lit a candle, and we left.